Covid 19 – Employment update
The Government’s coronavirus regulations have changed in recent weeks, and several new measures have been introduced that are designed to address the increasing number of new coronavirus cases. There are a number of provisions relevant to employees and workers, and these are set out below.
New Job Support Scheme
The current furlough and flexible furlough schemes are due to come to an end on 31st October 2020. In its place, the Government will be introducing the new Job Support Scheme. The scheme will run from for a period of 6 months (commencing on 1st November 2020) and allows the government to support the wages of people in work, giving employers the option to keep people in work on shorter hours, rather than make them redundant.
In order to participate in the scheme, employers and employees will need to meet the following eligibility criteria as set out on the gov.uk website:
- All employers with a UK bank account and UK PAYE schemes can claim the grant. Neither the employer nor the employee needs to have previously used the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
- Large businesses will have to meet a financial assessment test, so the scheme is only available to those whose turnover is lower now than before experiencing difficulties from Covid-19. There will be no financial assessment test for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
- The expectation is that large employers using the Job Support Scheme will not be making capital distributions, such as dividend payments or share buybacks, whilst accessing the grant. Further details will be set out in guidance.
- Employees must be on an employer’s PAYE payroll on or before 23 September 2020. This means a Real Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment to that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 23 September 2020.
- In order to support viable jobs, for the first three months of the scheme the employee must work at least 33% of their usual hours. After 3 months, the Government will consider whether to increase this minimum hours threshold.
- Employees will be able to cycle on and off the scheme and do not have to be working the same pattern each month, but each short-time working arrangement must cover a minimum period of seven days.
Under the scheme, the employer will continue to pay its employees for time worked, but the cost of hours not worked will be split between the employer, the Government and the employee (in the form of a wage reduction).
The Government will pay a third of hours not worked up to a cap (currently £697.92 a month), with the employer also contributing a third (together with the hours worked). This will ensure employees earn a minimum of 77% of their normal wages (where the Government contribution has not been capped).
Employers will be able to make a claim online through Gov.uk from December 2020, and grants will be paid monthly in arrears after payment to the employee has been made.
Existing coronavirus legislation regarding face coverings has been amended to make it clear that workers in the following places must wear masks:
- Shop workers.
- Shopping centres.
- Restaurants and bars.
The amended legislation provides the same reasonable excuse exception as existed for other obligations to wear a face mask (for example, because of disability or where wearing a mask would cause severe distress). However, the Regulations make it clear that it is the employee/worker who is committing the offence by not wearing a face mask and they will liable for the £200 fine, not the employer.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force (in England only) on 28th September 2020. These regulations set out mandatory periods for self-isolation, and a duty to notify the Secretary of State of the names of people living in the same household as anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
The new regulations place an obligation on the worker to inform their employer if they are required to self-isolate.
Employers should also note that the regulations also make it an offence for employers to knowingly allow workers to attend any place other than where the individual is self-isolating. This includes workers who are required to self-isolate because someone in their household has tested positive. Any employer who fails to do so will face a minimum fine of £1,000.